Ok. So the title of this article contains a dad joke. From a mom. Who is NOT, I assure you, three sheets to the wind as she writes. UGGGHHHH. Another bad (and I promise you it's the last) "dad" joke. But that leads me to this month's topic: crib sheets.
At Bumbershoots by Nana, we are driven by the concept of safer sleep. And that is no joking matter. In fact, sleep sacks, like ours, came about to protect babies against accidental suffocation. Accidental suffocation in bed is the leading cause of injury-related deaths in infants. So, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, and safety experts have warned parents against using soft bedding in infants' cribs, including blankets. That is how the wearable blanket (aka sleep sack) came about. It is a cozy, safer alternative to loose blankets for infants because it is worn by baby and less likely to accidentally cover baby's breathing passages.
When parents follow the experts' advice and keep the crib empty except for baby, crib sheets have the opportunity to become the star of the show. And one glance at the crib sheet market makes that clear. Crib sheets come in nearly as many designs, fabrics, and colors as there are babies. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. But it is fair to say that selecting bedding for your baby’s crib gives parents a chance to have a little fun.
First, the Basics
When it comes to crib sheets, there is no top and bottom sheet. There is only the fitted bottom sheet. I am not aware of any brand that offers a top sheet for a crib, but even if one did, the top sheet poses a suffocation hazard and should be omitted.
Second, a crib sheet must be tightly and securely fitted to the mattress. It's essential to buy a brand that’s the correct size for your baby's mattress and has deep corner pockets, so it has a tight fit and doesn’t slip off or become loose.
Third, babies can go through sheets like they go through clothes. Consequently, having at least two to three crib sheets makes life much easier.
Pro-tip: Place a mattress protector on the mattress, then a fitted sheet, then another protector, then another fitted sheet, creating two complete layers. That way, if baby’s diaper leaks or if baby spits up or has a blow-out in the middle of the night, you can simply strip off the soiled set to have fresh sheets waiting. That helps you get back to sleep sooner. Always a win!
Second, the Fabrics
When I learned I was going to become a mom, I was suddenly consumed with learning everything I could about anything that would touch my baby. Fabrics became a quandary. I couldn't just buy clothes or crib linens. I found I had to navigate through descriptors such as organic, natural, synthetic, bamboo, and other new-to-me info to determine what would be "best" for my baby. I blame it on our home remodel, which was ongoing throughout my pregnancy. Besides depriving me of a bathroom on the same floor where we slept (yep, you read that right, and it WAS, in fact, a nightmare in the third trimester!), I had no home ready for nesting. I suppose if I had the opportunity to traditionally nest, it is possible I might have been a little more relaxed with the shopping part. But I don't regret being an informed consumer. During this journey, I learned some interesting information, shared here and supplemented by American Blossom Linens.
Let's start with some basic terms:
Natural fibers (cotton, linen, etc.) come from natural sources. They don't trap moisture against baby's skin so they are better for baby's skin and better in the heat.
Organic means the fabric source (always natural) was grown without pesticides and fertilizers and chemicals are not added to the fabric. As a result they tend to be soft and compatible with even sensitive skin.
Synthetic or man-made fibers (polyester, spandex, etc.) are man-made materials, used on their own or in "blends." Blends are materials that combine man-made and natural fibers. They are often less expensive, can be very soft, and they typically wrinkle less.
Cotton is one of the most popular choices for crib sheets. It makes its appearance in the form of your typical percale cotton crib sheet as well as in the form of jersey (think soft t-shirt material), flannel, and muslin sheets.
The benefits to using cotton to make quality bedding are it is smooth, soft, breathable, odor resistant, extremely durable, and, of course, made by Mother Nature. Cotton sheets are easy to care for because cotton is a water-loving, machine washable fiber that releases dirt easily when wet.
The first known use of cotton dates back to prehistoric times - as far back as 6.000 BC! Fragments of the fabric have been found in the Indus Valley Civilization, in India and Pakistan, which may even predate Mesopotamia and the Egyptian Pharaohs. Cotton has also been traced back to ancient Peru, about 8,000 years before our time.
Organic v. Conventional Cotton.
Organic cotton is cotton that is produced and certified to organic agricultural standards. An organic cotton farming system is one that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. Not only is organic cotton naturally soft and strong, it is free from pesticides and harsh chemicals, requires less water and energy to produce than conventional cotton, and contributes to healthier soil. Another draw is that farmers and their families are not exposed to toxic chemicals in the field or through their food and water supply from growing organically.
The following diagram from Textile Exchange, a global nonprofit focusing on textile sustainability, illustrates the essential differences between organic and conventional cotton.
According to Textile Exchange, there are also environmental benefits to organic cotton:
- A 46% reduction in global warming potential from reduced agricultural inputs i.e., mineral fertilizer, pesticides, tractor and irrigation
- A 70% reduction in acidification of land and water from reduced field emissions from fertilizer and reduced energy use
- A 26% reduction in over fertilization from reduced nitrogen and phosphorous deposit in water and increased soil protection measures in organic agriculture preventing soil erosion
- A 91% reduced water consumption due to less irrigation
- A 62% reduction in energy use due to savings from production of fertilizer and less energy used
As American Blossom Linens notes, "Caring for the world and the people we share it with is crucial. Choosing organic cotton is part of this choice especially for our babies and their bedding. In 2015, 26 million metric tons of cotton was produced globally, much of it for the apparel industry. Organic cotton makes up less than 1% of this. By choosing organic over conventional cotton you have the purchasing power to influence brands, manufacturers and even farmers while at the same time providing healthier products for your family."
Organic cotton, while more expensive upfront, can prove over time be a money-saving investment - especially if you plan on having more children. Due to the lack of chemicals, the fibers tend to be more durable, which means they not only will last through all the spit ups, blowouts, washes and dryings with Baby One, they will last through your other baby's uses as well.
What are some of our favorite cotton sheets? Pottery Barn Kids, American Blossom Linens, Burt's Bee Baby, Oilo, and Aden & Anais. For a list of other top cotton brands, click here, here, and also here
Linen is made from very fine flax fibers. It often takes longer to harvest and make into fabric than cotton and is typically more expensive. As with all natural fabrics, it can come in organic or conventional form. Because organic production and outcome are substantially similar to those described above with cotton, they will not be re-examined here.
Like cotton, linen is a natural fabric that is commonly found in bedsheets. Also similarly, linen is a comfortable, durable and lightweight fabric. However, there are some differences to consider as well, such as those identified in an article by MasterClass:
- Durability. Cotton has a little more stretch and flexibility than linen but is not as durable. Finer cotton, like Egyptian cotton, is made from long-staple cotton fibers, which makes this cotton softer and more durable than standard cotton, but still not as durable as linen. Linen is much more rigid but lasts longer because the cellulose fibers in linen yarn are slightly longer and wrapped tighter than those in cotton yarn, which increases its strength and longevity.
- Softness. Cotton is softer to the touch than linen because flax fibers are rougher than cotton fibers. For example, cotton sheets are very soft right out of the box and can last around five years, but linen sheets become very soft after several washes and last longer, up to 30 years.
- Texture. Cotton is a smoother fabric, while linen has more of a rough, textured pattern as a result of the looser weave.
- Appearance. Cotton pills more than linen as cotton fibers are weaker. Both cotton and linen wrinkle easily, as they are made from natural fibers, but linen wrinkles slightly more due to the stiffness of the fabric.
- Hypoallergenic. Both cotton and linen are hypoallergenic; however, linen is slightly better for people with allergies as the lower thread count and the loose weave is less likely to trap dust and particles.
- Absorbency. Both cotton and linen are very absorbent and water strengthens both linen and cotton fibers. Cotton is slightly more absorbent, as cotton can hold more than 25% of its weight in water while linen can hold up to 20% water.
- Water wicking. Linen also has natural water-wicking qualities, which means it draws water (or sweat) out of the skin and dries quickly. Cotton also wicks moisture well, but it doesn’t have the same natural wicking ability that linen has.
- Breathability. Both cotton fabric and linen fabric are breathable, though the breathability of cotton depends more on the weave of the fabric rather than the fibers themselves. Flax linen fibers are hollow so air and water can easily circulate.
- Warmth. Cotton does not conduct heat, but does have some insulating properties. Linen flax fibers are hollow, making it very cool for the summer, but should be layered in the winter months.
Another difference is price point. Linen runs quite a bit more expensive than cotton.
Natural bamboo fabric is touted for its antimicrobial qualities, which helps reduce and destroy odor-causing bacteria. Bamboo fabric is also breathable and said to be more absorbent and stronger than cotton. Also, it is a highly sustainable product, as it does not require pesticides and self-regenerates from its own roots. However, when it comes to baby products, including crib sheets, the bamboo fabrics used to make them are not the natural bamboo fabrics offering these qualities.
Manufacturing natural bamboo fabric involves combing out the bamboo fibers and spinning them into thread, much like how hemp is made into thread. This method creates a linen-type fabric that is processed as bast. The result is a fabric that is not suitable for the tender skin of babies and children. According to the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC"), "Real bamboo fabric that may be antibacterial is often rough or scratchy, and is rarely used in fabric you touch, like clothing or bedding."
Also according to the FTC, "Not all bamboo clothing or bedding is what it seems — or what it’s advertised to be. When bamboo has been chemically processed into rayon and similar fabrics, there’s no trace of the original plant left. If your goal was to buy something eco-friendly, those toxic chemicals and the rayon fabric they produced are probably not what you had in mind." It is also unclear whether blended bamboo fabric will have the same qualities as a natural bamboo fabric, which has subject a variety of manufacturers to fines for false advertising.
While the bamboo viscose making process involves chemicals, that does not mean bamboo baby clothing and crib sheets are necessarily harmful to baby. There are a variety of great products out there, including Cozy Earth and KYTE Baby bamboo crib sheets, all of which have been approved for baby. For additional assurance when it comes to bamboo viscose, look for the Oeke-Tex certification.
Synthetic/Man-made Fabrics & Blends
Synthetic or man-made fabrics, as well as blends, are often less expensive. Polyester cotton blends can be appealing because they do not shrink and are less likely to wrinkle. Some man-made fabrics have a tendency to permanently trap stains and even odors, which can be unappealing - perhaps especially when it comes to crib sheets. Additionally, man-made fabrics can trap moisture against a baby's skin, which can cause rashes and discomfort with sensitive skin.
That said, several of our favorite crib sheets where made of Chamois, which is 100% polyester. We did not have any staining or odor trapping with the chamois crib sheets we bought from Pottery Barn Kids. We've also heard good things about Cozy Fleece Microplush Crib Sheets for cooler evenings.
While we have not tried them, Lou Lou LOLLIPOP offers blended cotton sheets (organic cotton with bamboo rayon) that receive high marks. Solly Baby also offers highly rated crib sheets, made with the same ultra soft Lenzing modal as their wraps.
Photo Credit: Lauren Daue Photography
Contributing Author: Janet Wischnia of American Blossom Linens